In today’s pediatric population, ADHD diagnoses hover around 10 – 20%. This is an exponential increase from the 1970s when only about 150,000 children were diagnosed with ADHD.
Integrative health practitioners now know a little more about the condition. First, it’s twofold. A person with ADHD is genetically predisposed for the condition, but it’s the environment that pulls the trigger. Additionally, ADHD is often accompanied by comorbidities, such as anxiety or OCD.
What accounts for the increase in diagnoses? One of the biggest changes since the 1970s is their environment. Today’s kids live differently. They eat more processed foods, engage in more activities involving electronics, and experience more rigorous academic standards and structures in school. This means there’s less free play outdoors, fewer fruits and vegetables in their diets, and more pressure to sit still for extended periods of time.
Managing ADHD from a natural perspective goes beyond adding supplements to your child’s diet. Natural supplements are a good place to start, but there are also several lifestyle adjustments that support wellness and brain focus.
Avoiding or Minimizing Rx Stimulants When Possible
The vast majority of parents who have children diagnosed with ADHD want to avoid or minimize putting them on medications like Adderall and Ritalin. When faced with the decision to begin medication, parents will often turn to functional integrative medicine health practitioners because they want to learn about natural supplements that help manage ADHD.
Therapeutic interventions for the disorder include the following supplements:
- Fish oil
- Vitamin D
- Omega 3s
- Ginseng and Ginko combinations
- Valerian root and lemon balm combinations
An integrative health practitioner can help guide you toward the best combination of supplements and dosages for your child. Keep in mind that while these natural options may work for some children, others may need the medication, at least temporarily—especially if they’re failing in school. But even in these cases, it’s not ideal to put a kid on Adderall at age 6 and let them stay on it until they’re 85 without some long term plan. Bridge therapies, or temporary medication stints, can be useful as long as they transition off the medication at some point.
Encourage Free Play Outdoors
Many schools no longer offer physical education on a regular basis, and lunch periods are sometimes as short as 15 to 20 minutes. High schoolers now do college-level work, middle schoolers do high-school level work, and elementary kids do some middle school-level work. Kids are expected to focus at a desk for longer periods of time than in the past. Even sports are more structured as leagues, club teams, or classes instead of free, casual play.
A child with an ADHD brain may struggle against these constraints because their mind doesn’t want to sit still; it wants to go off and spontaneously do things. In a book called Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv argues that loss of time playing in the woods and outdoors in the environment, coupled with an increase in structure learning time, has led to increased incidences of ADHD. Parents of ADHD kids can help by scheduling regular, unstructured outdoor play. Stress-reducing exercises that involve repeated movement, such as yoga, walking, and jumping on a trampoline are great for kids with ADHD. Even a ten-minute walk around the block can help settle the brain and promote focus.
This is one area where most authorities agree: electronics make ADHD worse. Multiple studies show neuro-psychiatric issues—including ADHD, anxiety, and depression—are exacerbated by the use of electronics. The effect electronics have on the brain, not limited to the ADHD brain, is incredible.
To curb the effect electronics have on your child’s ADHD, cut back on the amount of daily screen time allowed. This includes video games, television, and using phones to chat with friends or engage on social media.
Address Sleep Issues
Insomnia is common among kids with ADHD. When your child’s sleep patterns are off, their circadian rhythm is off. They’ll wake later in the day and feel more fatigued during daytime hours. Lack of sleep can affect not only their performance in school, but it can also impact other body systems over time because good sleep is critical to most of the body’s functions.
To help encourage healthy sleep patterns, ensure your child gets daily physical exercise. You can also try melatonin dosed for children. It occurs naturally in the body and helps encourage sleep during evening hours.
There are two primary approaching to a diet that helps manage ADHD. The first is to eliminate foods that some believe trigger the conditions, including gluten and dairy, though there isn’t substantial data that says this works. The second is one I refer to as the “anti-inflammatory” diet, which is more holistic and similar to the Mediterranean Diet.
It’s becoming clearer that an ideal diet consists of more fruits, vegetables, phytonutrients, and foods that contain high-quality fats and Omega 3s (like olive oil and fish), and fewer foods that contain starches and sugars. This kind of diet is better for regulating inflammation, boosting brain function, and overall bodily wellness.
To encourage kids to eat healthier, you can help shift their perspective by looking at food as a source of healing. If they know that good foods help them focus and feel better, they may be more inclined to make better food choices.
ADHD diagnoses are far more common today than they were 20 and 30 years ago. Integrative health offers a lot of natural interventions for kids with ADHD. Along with supplements, exercise, sleep, reduced exposure to electronics, and a good diet can help minimize the effects that kids experience. A functional medicine practitioner can help you develop a holistic plan for your child.